Colossus or Colossos, Rhodes

Colossus or Colossos (Lat. and Gr. a gigantic statue)

The Colossus of Rhodes, completed probably about 280 B. C., was a representation of the sun-god, Helios, and commemorated the successful defense of Rhodes against Demetrius Poliorcetes in 304 B. C. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the World; it stood 105 feet high, and is said to have been made from the warlike engines abandoned by Demetrius by the Rhodian Sculptor Chares, a pupil of Lysippus. The story that it was built striding across the harbor and that ships could piss in full sail between its legs, rose in the 16th century. There is nothing to support it; neither Strabo nor Pliny makes mention of it, though both describe the statue minutely.

Colosseum: amphitheater of ancient Rome


The great Flavian amphitheater of ancient Rome, said to be so named from the colossal statue of Nero that stood close by in the Via Sacra. It was begun by Vespasian in 72 A. D., and, for 400 years, was the scene of the gladiatorial contests. The ruins remaining are still colossal and extensive, but quite two-thirds of the original building have been taken away at different times and used for building material.

Byron, adapting the exclamation of the 8thcentury pilgrims (and adopting a bad spelling), says:

While stands Coliseum, Rome shall stand; When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall: And when Rome falls--the world.

Childe Harold, IV. cxlv.

The name has since been applied to other amphitheaters and places of amusement.

The Land of Cockaigne

The Land of Cockaigne

An imaginary land of pleasure, wealth, luxury, and idleness. London is so called, and Boileau applies the word to Paris. This mythical Utopia (spelled also Cokayne and Cocagne) was the subject of many mock-serious poems of the Middle Ages. According to a typical account of the 13th century, the houses were made of barleysugar and cakes, the streets were paved with pastry, and the shops supplied goods without requiring money in payment. James Branch Cabell makes Jurgen visit Cocaigne in his satiric romance Jurgen and describes it as a land of curious delights, presided over by Anaitis.

Cleopatra's Needle

Cleopatra's Needle

The obelisk so called, now in London on the Thames Embankment, was brought there in 1878 from Alexandria, whither it and its fellow (now in Central Park, New York) had been moved from Heliopolis by Augustus about 9 B.C. It has no connection with Cleopatra, and it has carved on it hieroglyphics that tell of its erection by Thothmes III, a Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty who lived many centuries before her time.

Cleopatra: Queen of Egypt wife of Ptolemy Dionysius

Cleopatra. Queen of Egypt, wife of Ptolemy Dionysius.

She was driven from her throne, but re-established by Julius Caesar, 47 B.C. Antony, captivated by her, repudiated his wife, Octavia, to live with the fascinating Egyptian. After the loss of the battle of Actium, Cleopatra killed herself by an asp. She is the heroine of many tragedies, of which the most notable in English are Shakespeare Antony and Cleopatra ( 1608) Dryden All for Love or the World Well Lost ( 1682) and Shaw Caesar and Cleopatra ( 1908). There is an Italian tragedy by Alfieri ( 1773), and French tragedies by E. Jodelle, Cléopatre captive ( 1550); Jean Mairet, Cléopatre ( 1630); Isaac de Benserade ( 1670), J. F. Marmontel ( 1750), and Mde. de Girardin ( 1847). Rider Haggard has a romance called Cleopatra ( 1889).

Cipango or Zipango

Cipango or Zipango

A marvelous island described in the Voyages of Marco Polo, the Venetian traveler. He described it as lying some 1500 miles from land. This island was an object of diligent search by Columbus and other early navigators; but it belongs to that wonderful chart which contains the El Dorado of Sir Walter Raleigh, the Utopia of Sir Thomas More, the Atlantis of Lord Bacon, the Laputa of Dean Swift, and other places better known in story than in geography.

Chiltern Hundreds

Chiltern Hundreds

In British history, a hundred is a division of a county. The Chiltern hundreds are Stoke, Desborough, and Burnham, in Buckinghamshire. At one time the Chilterns, i.e., the hills between Bedford and Hertford, etc., were much frequented by robbers, so a steward was appointed by the Crown to put them down. The necessity has long since ceased, but the office remains; and, since 1740, when a Member of Parliament wishes to vacate his seat, one way of doing so is by applying for the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds; for no member of Parliament may resign his seat, but if he accepts an office of profit under the Crown he is obliged to be re-elected if he wishes to remain a member. The Stewardship of the Manor of Northstead (Yorks) is used in the same way. The gift of both is in the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; it was refused to a member for Reading in 1842.

The Stewardships of Old Sarum (Sussex), East Hendred (Berks), Poynings (Sussex), Hempholwic (Yorks), were formerly used for the same purpose, as were (till 1838) the Escheatorships of Munster and Ulster.

Cathedral of Chartres

Cathedral of Chartres

Famous Gothic cathedral at Chartres, France. Several churches were built on its site throughout the Middle Ages and subsequently destroyed by fire, but the main building as it appears today was erected between 1194 and 1220, with additions later.

Chartres is particularly celebrated for its stained-glass windows. In Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, by Henry Adams, the cathedral of Chartres serves as a symbol of the spirit of unity of the Middle Ages.

Cat in the cultures

Called a "familiar," from the medieval superstition that Sitan's favorite form was a black cat. Hence witches were said to have a cat as their familiar.

In ancient Rome the cat was a symbol of liberty. The goddess of Liberty was represented as holding a cup in one hand, a broken scepter in the other, and with a cat lying at her feet. No animal is so great an enemy to all constraint as a cat.

In Egypt the cat was sacred to Isis, or the moon. It was held in great veneration, and was worshiped with great ceremony as a symbol of the moon, not only because it is more active after sunset, but from the dilation and contraction of its pupil, symbolical of waxing and waning. The goddess Bast (Bubastis), representative of the life-giving solar heat, was portrayed as having the head of a cat, probably because that animal likes to bask in the sun. Diodorus tells us that whoever killed a cat, even by accident, was by the Egyptians punished by death, and according to Egyptian tradition, Diana assumed the form of a cat, and thus excited the fury of the giants.

Castor and Pollux

Castor and Pollux

In Roman mythology, the twin sons of Jupiter and Leda. Jupiter is said to have visited Leda in the form of a swan. She produced two eggs, from one of which sprang Castor and Clytemnestra, and from the other Pollux and Helen. Castor and Pollux, also known as the Dioscuri, had many adventures, were worshiped as gods, and were finally placed among the constellations.

Their name used to be given by sailors to the St. Elmo's Fire or Corposant. If only one flame showed itself, the Romans called it Helen, and said that it portended that the worst of the storm was yet to come; but two or more luminous flames they called Castor and Pollux, and said that they boded the termination of the storm.

Capulet: A noble house in Verona


A noble house in Verona, the rival of that of Montague. In Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET, Juliet is of the former, and Romeo of the latter. Lady Capulet is the beau idéal of a proud Italian matron of the 15th century. The expression, "the tomb of all the Capulets," is from Burke; he uses it in his Reflections on the Revolution in France (vol. iii. p. 349), and again in his Letter to Matthew Smith, where he says:

I would rather sleep in the southern corner of a country churchyard than in the tomb of the Capulets.

Juggernaut or Jagannath

Juggernaut or Jagannath

A Hindu god, "Lord of the World," having his temple at Puri, in Orissa. The legend, as told in the Ayeen-Akbery, is that a learned Brahmin was sent to look out a site for a temple. The Brahmin wandered about for many days, and then saw a crow dive into the water, and, having washed, make obeisance to the element. This was selected as the site of the temple. While the temple was being built, the king, Indica Dhumna, had a prophetic dream, telling him that the true form of Vishnu should be revealed to him in the morning.

When the king went to see the temple he beheld a log of wood in the water, and this log he accepted as the realization of his dream, enshrining it in the temple.Jagannath is regarded as the remover of sin. His image is on view three days in the year. The first day is the Snanayatra, or Bathing Festival, when the god is washed; he is then supposed to have a cold for ten days, at the end of which he is again brought out and taken in his car to the nearest temple. A week later the car is pulled back amid the rejoicings of the multitude at his recovery. It was formerly erroneously supposed that on this final day, the Rathayatra, fanatical devotees threw themselves beneath the wheels of the enormous, decorated machine, in the idea that they would thus obtain immediate admission to Paradise. Hence, the phrase the car of Juggernaut is used of customs, institutions, etc., beneath which people are ruthlessly and unnecessarily crushed.

Kehama The Hindu rajah of Southey epic poem

The Curse of Kehama ( 1810)

He was the almighty rajah of Earth, and allpowerful in Swerga or Heaven. After a long tyranny, he went to Pandalon (Hell) to claim domination there also. He demanded why the throne of Yamen was supported by only three persons, and was told that he himself must be the fourth.

When Kehama drank the amreeta, or draught of immortality, which he thought would bring eternal happiness, he drank immortal death, and was forced to bend his proud neck beneath the throne of Yamen, to become the fourth supporter. LADURLAD was the person subjected to the "curse of Kehama."

Apollo In Greek and Roman mythology


In Greek and Roman mythology, son of Zeus and Leto (Latona), one of the great gods of Olympus, typifying the sun in its light- and life-giving as well as in its destroying power; often identified with Helios, the sun-god. He was god of music, poetry and the healing art, the latter of which he bestowed on his son, Aesculapius. He is represented in art as the perfection of youthful manhood.


Originally, a member of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps engaged, during World War I, in the fighting at Gallipoli. The word was formed from the initials of the corps name. Loosely, any Australian or New Zealand soldier serving abroad or even a civilian from those parts of the British empire.


In classic legend, daughter 'of Oedipus by his mother Jocasta, famed for her heroic attachment to her father and brothers. When Oedipus had blinded himself, and was obliged to quit Thebes, Antigone accompanied him, and remained with him till his death, after which she returned to Thebes. Creon, the king, had forbidden any one to bury Polynices, her brother, who had been slain by his elder brother in battle (see Seven Against Thebes under THEBES); but Antigone, in defiance of this prohibition, buried the dead body. Creon shut her up in a vault under ground, where, according to the usual version, she killed herself. Haeman, her lover, killed himself also by her side. She is the heroine of Sophocles' drama Antigone and of Euripides' Suppliants.

Amasis, ring of

Amasis, ring of

Herodotus tells us that Polycrates, tyrant of Samos, was so fortunate in everything that. Amasis, king of Egypt, fearing such unprecedented luck boded ill, advised him to part with something which he highly prized. Polycrates accordingly threw into the sea a ring of great value. A few days afterwards, a fish was presented to the tyrant, in which the ring was found. Amasis now renounced friendship with Polycrates, as a man doomed by the gods; and not long afterwards, a satrap put the too fortunate despot to death by crucifixion.

Owen Meredith ( E. R. Bulwer LYTTON) gave the title The Ring of Amasisto a romance. T. Sturge Moore has a well-known poem on the story in the Oxford Book of English Verse.

Alsatia. The Whitefriars district of London

Alsatia. The Whitefriars district of London

The Whitefriars district of London, which from early times till the abolition of all privileges in 1697 was a sanctuary for debtors and law-breakers. It was bounded on the north and south by Fleet Street and the Thames, on the east and west by the Fleet River (now New Bridge Street) and the Temple; and was so called from the old Latin name of Alsace, which was for centuries a debatable frontier ground and a refuge of the disaffected. Scott, in his Fortunes of Nigel, described the life and state of this rookery; he borrowed largely from The Squire of Alsatia ( 1688), a comedy by Shadwell, who had been the first to use the name in literature.

Alpheus and Arethusa

Alpheus and Arethusa

The Greek legend is that a youthful hunter named Alpheus was in love with the nymph Arethusa; she fled from him to the island of Ortygia on the Sicilian coast and he was turned into a river of Arcadia in the Peloponnesus. Alpheus pursued her under the sea, and, rising in Ortygia, he and she became one in the fountain hereafter called Arethusa. The myth seems to be designed for the purpose of accounting for the fact that the course of the Alpheus is for some considerable distance underground.

Alexandrian library

Founded by Ptolemy Soter, in Alexandria, in Egypt. The tale is that it was burnt and partly consumed in 391; but when the city fell into the hands of the caliph Omar, in 642, the Arabs found books sufficient to "heat the baths of the city for six months." It is said that it contained 700,000 volumes, and the reason given by the Mohammedan destroyer for the destruction of the library was that the books were unnecessary in any case, for all knowledge that was necessary to man was contained in the Koran, and any knowledge contained in the library that was not in the Koran must be pernicious.

Aladdin in the Arabian Nights

One of the most celebrated characters in the Arabian Nights, the son of Mustafa a poor tailor, of China, "obstinate, disobedient, and mischievous," wholly abandoned "to indolence and licentiousness." One day an African magician accosts him, pretending to be his uncle, and sends him to bring up the "wonderful lamp," at the same time giving him a "ring of safety." Aladdin secures the lamp, but will not hand it to the magician till he is out of the cave; whereupon the magician shuts him up in the cave, and departs for Africa.

Aladdin, wringing his hands in despair, happens to rub the magic ring. The genius of the ring appears before him, and asks his commands. Aladdin asks to be delivered from the cave, and he returns home. By means of this lamp, he obtains untold wealth, builds a superb palace, and marries Badroulboudour, the sultan's daughter. After a time, the African magician gets possession of the lamp, and causes the palace, with all its contents, to be transported into Africa. Ultimately Aladdin poisons the magician, regains the lamp, and has his palace retored to its original place in China.

Aladdin's lamp. The source of wealth and good fortune.

Aladdin's ring, given him by the African magician, was a "preservative against every evil."

Aladdin's window. To finish Aladdin's window-- i.e., to attempt to complete something begun by a great genius, but left imperfect. The palace built by the genius of the lamp had twenty-four windows, all but one being set in frames of precious stones; the last was left for the sultan to finish; but after exhausting his treasures, the sultan was obliged to abandon the task as hopeless.

Ajax: famous hero of the Trojan War

Ajax. The most famous hero of the Trojan War after Achilles; King of Salamis, a man of giant stature, daring, and self-confident, son of Telamon. When the armor of Hector was awarded to Ulysses instead of to himself, he turned mad from vexation and stabbed himself. His deeds are narrated by Homer and later poets.

Sophocles has a tragedy called Ajax, in which "the madman" scourges a ram he mistakes for Ulysses. His encounter with a flock of sheep, which he fancied in his madness to be the sons of Atreus, has been mentioned at greater or less length by several Greek and Roman poets. This Ajax is introduced by Shakespeare in his drama called Troilus and Cressida.

Agamemnon In Greek legend

In Greek legend the King of Mycenae, son of Atreus, and leader of the Greeks at the siege of Troy. Homer makes him ruler over all Argos. He was the brother of Menelaus, the theft of whose wife Helen by Paris brought on the Trojan War. Before the expedition against Troy could sail, Agamemnon's daughter Iphigenia was sacrificed to Diana to appease that goddess for a sacred stag Agamemnon had killed. At Troy, Agamemnon's quarrel with ACHILLES cost the Greeks many lives and delayed the end of the war.

After the sack of Troy, Agamemnon returned home only to be murdered by his wife Clytemnestra, who was living as the paramour of Aegisthus. For the tragic vengeance which his son Orestes and his daughter Electra took for their father's death, see under those entries. Agamemnon is the principal figure in Aeschylus ' trilogy, the Agamemnon, Choephori and Eumenides, and is prominent in many plays on the fate of IPHIGENIA.Aganippe. Fountain of the Muses, at the foot of Mount Helicon, in Boeotia.Agapemone. A 19th-century Communistic establishment of men and women in England, suspected of free-love practices; hence, any free-love institution.

Tunusia has long been popular as a location site for filmmakers

Tunusia has long been popular as a location site for filmmakers as varied as the Monty Python troupe, George Lucas, Franco Zeffirelli, and Steven Spielberg. One of the first international filmmakers to "discover" the country was Italian Roberto Rossellini, who came there in 1975 to commence filming of his It Messia/The Messiah ( 1978). Thanks to Rossellini, a young Tunisian named Tarak ben Ammar realized the potential for a Tunisian film industry; he established Carthago Films and by 1986 had become producer of such major films as Roman Polanski Pirates. The producer also operates studios at Port El Kantaoui and Monastir and owns many theatres.

In 1957, the Tunisian government established SATPEC (Société Anonyme Tunisienne de Production et d'Expansion Cinématographique, 10 rue Ibn Khaldun, Tunis, Tunisia). It is involved primarily in production, with limited interests in distribution. In 1967, SATPEC created the major film complex at Gammarth, which includes a film laboratory, editing suites, a sound stage, viewing rooms, and mobile film units. Major Tunisian film directors include Tayeb Louichi, Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud, Ridhi Behi, Nacir Khemir, Abdeuatif Ben Ammar, Moncef Dhouib, and Lotfi Essid.

Tunisia is also important in the Arab and African film world as the site of Journées Cinématographiques de Carthage (Carthage Film Days), a biennial event at which African and Arab films are screened and filmmakers have the opportunity to meet and discuss common concerns. It has been held, with funding provided in large part by the Tunisian government, since 1976.

Venice is a seasonal city

Venice is a seasonal city, dependent more than most upon weather and temperature. She lives for the summer, when her great tourist industry leaps into action, and in winter she is a curiously simple, homely place, instinct with melancholy, her Piazza deserted, her canals choppy and dismal. The winter climate of Venice is notorious. A harsh, raw, damp miasma overcomes the city for weeks at a time, only occasionally dispersed by days of cold sunny brilliance. The rain teems down with a particular wetness, like unto like, stirring the mud in the bottom of the Grand Canal, and streaming magnificently off the marbles of the Basilica. The fog marches in frowardly from the sea, so thick that you cannot see across the Piazza, and the vaporetto labours towards the Rialto with an anxious look-out in the bows. Sometimes a layer of snow covers the city, giving it a certain sense of improper whimsy, as if you were to dress a duchess in pink ruffles. Sometimes the fringe of a bora sweeps the water in fierce waves up the narrower canals, and throws the moored boats viciously against the quays. The nights are vaporous and tomb-like, and the days dawn monotonously grey.

So Venice sits huddled over her inadequate stoves, or huggermugger in her cafés. The palaces of the Grand Canal are heavily clamped and boarded, with only a handful of dim lights burning from ugly tinkling chandeliers through fusty dark brown curtains. The boatmen crouch at their tillers, shrouded in sacks and old overcoats, and sometimes clutching umbrellas. The alleycats squat emaciated behind their grilles, and the pigeons cluster dejectedly in sheltered crannies of the Piazza. All Venice snivels with influenza, colds in the nose and throat infections: when the Republic secretly did away with three of its political enemies in the fifteenth century, the cause of death was blandly announced as catarrh, and everyone was satisfied. The great hotels are closed or moribund, their echoing foyers haunted only by a handful of disillusioned millionaires and leathery ladies of intrigue. The restaurants are empty and indifferent, and even Florian's café, which used to boast that its doors had been open night and day for two centuries, lowers its shutters long before midnight. Not a fiddle plays in the Piazza. Not a tout hangs around the arcades. Scarcely a tourist complains about the price of hot chocolate. It is a very private city.

Its celebrations have a club-like feeling, free of prying outsiders. A Venetian Christmas is a staunchly family festival. The trains are full of returning migrants, waiters and labourers from Paris, mothers' helps from the Home Counties, and there is a great deal of hand-shaking in the streets, and many a delighted reunion at the steamboat station. Suddenly everyone in Venice seems to know everyone else. An endless stream of shoppers, dressed in their elegant best, pushes so thickly through the narrow Merceria that sometimes the policemen, stationing themselves at intersections, impose a system of one-way traffic. The windows burgeon with Christmas trees. Every passing barge seems full of bottles, or parcels, or little firs from the mountains, and every child in Venice seems to trail a red balloon.

In the plushy cafés of St. Mark's (Regency stripes and spindly chairs) spruce infants listen with deference to the interminable reminiscences of immaculate uncles: and in the cafés on Christmas Eve 20,000 families giggle before the television sets, drinking Cinzano and eating sticky cakes, while the favourite melody of the day is passed from shop to shop, from square to square, down one dark alley to another, like a cheerful watchword in the night. The Christmas services are warm, bright and glistening; the cribs are crude but touching; the choirs sing lustily; and Venice feels less like a grand duchess than a buxom landlady, enjoying a glass of stout when the customers have gone (except for the mysterious permutations of clergy, gold and crimson and misty with incense, that you may glimpse passing and repassing the open doors of the Basilica).

To see the Serenissima without her make-up on, try getting up at three in the morning one foggy February morning, and watch the old lady reluctantly awakening. As you stand on your terrace above the canal, it is as though you are deposited plumb in the middle of an almost disused nowhere, so deathly silent is the place, so gagged and pinioned with mist. There are sombre pools of lamplight on the shrouded Grand Canal, and the only person in sight is a solitary eccentric in a fur hat, reading the Rules and Regulations at the steamboat pontoon with a cold and unnatural intensity. And when you have plastered your sweaters on, and crept down the scrubbed echoing staircase of your palace (past the sleeping advocate on the second floor, the Slav Baronessa on the first, the one-eyed ginger tom in his niche, the mighty padlocked coal-cellar doors, the pigeon-streaked bust of an unknown hero by the entrance, the little neglected Madonna on the wood shed, the arid tangle of a lawn and the stiff squeaking iron gates)--when you are out at last, you will find the whole great city damp and padded in sleep. In London or New York the night is never absolute: in Venice, at three on a foggy winter morning, it feels as though the day will never come.

Venice is no longer the supreme city of music

Venice is no longer the supreme city of music, as she was in the eighteenth century, when four celebrated conservatoires flourished there, when her choirs and instrumentalists were unrivalled, and when the priest Vivaldi, suddenly inspired with a melody in the middle of celebrating Mass, instantly rushed off to the Sacristy to scribble it down. Music, nevertheless, often sounds in the city. The strains of great symphonies rise, in the summer season, from breathless floodlit courtyards; twelvetone scales and electronic cadences ring from the International Festival of Contemporary Music, which recently brought Stravinsky himself to conduct an opera in the Scuola di San Rocco; the noble choir of St. Mark's, once trained by Monteverdi, sings seraphically from its eyrie among the high mosaics of the Basilica. The gondoliers no longer quote Tasso to one another, or sing old Venetian love songs (most of the popular tunes nowadays are from Naples or New York): but sometimes an ebullient young man will open his heart and his lungs together, and float down the canal on the wings of a throaty aria.

To hear the bells of Venice it is best to come at Christmas, when the air is mist-muffled, and the noises of the city are deepened and richened, like plum-duff. A marvellous clash of bells rings in Christmas morning, noble bells and frenzied bells, spinsterish bells and pompous bells, cracked bells and genial bells and cross reproving bells. The bells of San Trovaso sound exactly like Alpine cowbells. The bells of the Carmini sing the first few notes of the Lourdes hymn. The bells of Santa Maria Zobenigo are rung 'with such persistency', so one Victorian visitor recorded, 'that the whole neighbourhood must be driven almost to distraction'. The bells of the Oratory of the Virgin, near San Giobbe, so annoyed the monks of the neighbouring convent that in 1515 they went out one night and razed its little campanile to the ground: they had to rebuild it at their own expense.

The great bell of San Salvatore rings in an exciting dissonance, its notes being, so I am assured, E flat, D flat and B flat. The great Marangona bell, rescued from the ruins of the old Campanile of St. Mark, no longer sounds, but hangs there in the belfry looking frail and venerable: but the big new bell of St. Mark's is alone permitted to sound at midnight, and also rings, to an erratic timetable, at odd intervals during the day. There is a little bell that strikes the hours on the north-western corner of the Basilica, beneath a small stone canopy; and this seems to act as a kind of trigger or stimulus to the two old Moors on the Clock Tower, who promptly raise their hammers for the strike. All these bells, and a hundred others, welcome Christmas with a midnight flourish, and for long echoing minutes after the hour you can hear them ringing down again, softer and softer across the lagoon, like talkative old gentlemen subsiding into sleep.

And there is one more sound that evokes the old Venice, defying the motor boats and the cacophony of radios. Sometimes, early in the morning, as you lie in bed in the half-light, you may hear the soft fastidious splash of oars outside, the swish of a light boat moving fast, the ripple of the waves against the bulwarks of the canal, and the swift breathing of the oarsman, easy and assured.

The Venetians in the History

The Venetians invented the income tax, statistical science, the floating of government stock, state censorship of books, anonymous denunciations (the Bocca del Leone), and the Ghetto. The idea of a Suez Canal was broached by Venice to the sultan in 1504. They were quick to hear of new inventions and discoveries and to grasp their practical application. When the news came to Venice, in 1498, of Vasco da Gama's voyage, rounding the Cape of Good Hope, the whole city instantly understood that it was bad news for their commerce: "the worst piece of information that we could ever have had." The telescope, which was invented in Holland in 1608, was known about in Venice before the end of the year. In 1610, it was being tried out from the Campanile, and a Venetian swindler was able to palm off a fraudulent one (made of plain glass) on the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

A Venetian doctor, Salamon, in 1649, anticipated biological warfare by concocting a plague-quintessence for use in the Turkish war. It was to be sown in the enemy's camps through the medium of cloth goods of the type the Turks liked to buy -- Albanian fez, for instance. "The proposition is a virtuous one," wrote the Venetian provveditore in Zara to the Inquisitors of State. "It is however... unusual and perhaps not admitted by public morality. But... in the case of the Turks, enemies by faith, treacherous by nature, who have always betrayed your excellencies, in my humble opinion the ordinary considerations have no weight." The Ten were interested in the proposition and, to make sure of a monopoly on the doctor and his jar of plague-quintessence, they put both of them in jail. In the event, as it seems, the invention may not have been used, possibly because the germs had gone stale -- a criticism leveled at the contents of the poison-cupboard in the Doge's Palace when it was checked in the eighteenth century. The Ten were always ready to listen to any ingenious person with a sure-fire scheme, to a murderer who offered to kill the king of Spain for 150 ducats, exclusive of traveling expenses, to a forger who guaranteed that he could forge in all languages....

The altane or roof terraces, now chiefly used for hanging out laundry, were a Venetian invention in the field of beauty. The Venetian ladies used to steep their hair in a chemical solution, and sit out on their altane, constructed for the purpose, in open-crowned hats, with the hair pulled through and spread out on the brim to bleach in the sun. Hence the golden tresses of Venetian painting. A little of that bleach seems to linger in the Venetian water-supply, for though the Venetians today are not, on the whole, blond, they are not brunette either, but dark with blond highlights. They have kept the fair skin too that the wide-brimmed hat shielded.

The Venetians first developed the glass mirror commercially in the Murano glass works. They held a monopoly of the art for over a century during the Renaissance. Any mirrormaker who took his art into a foreign state could have his nearest relations imprisoned, and Venetian agents were commissioned to kill him on sight. As late as the seventeenth century, Colbert, Louis XIV's minister, used poison and women to keep certain Venetian mirror-makers in France, and on his death a Venetian mirror, measuring 42 by 26 inches, was found among his effects and inventoried at nearly three times the price of a Raphael.

Venice The Sands of Time

It was from Byzantium that the taste for refinement and sensuous luxury came to Venice. "Artificiosa voluptate se mulcebat," a chronicler wrote of the Greek wife of an early doge. Her scents and perfumes, her baths of dew, her sweet-smelling gloves and dresses, the fork she used at table scandalized her subjects, plain Italian pioneer folk. The husband of this effeminate woman had Greek tastes also. He began, says the chronicler, "to work in mosaic," importing mosaic workers -- and marbles and precious stones -- to adorn his private chapel, St. Mark's, in the Eastern style that soon became second nature to the Venetians.

The Byzantine mode, in Venice, lost something of its theological awesomeness. The stern, solemn figure of the Pantocrator who dominates the Greek churches with his frowning brows and upraised hand does not appear in St. Mark's in His arresting majesty. In a Greek church, you feel that the Eye of God is on you from the moment you step in the door; you are utterly encompassed by this all-embracing gaze, which in peasant chapels is often represented by an eye over the door. The fixity of this divine gaze is not punitive; it merely calls you to attention and reminds you of the eternal, the Law of the universe arching over time and circumstance. The Pantocrator of the Greeks has traits of the old Nemesis, sweetened and purified by the Redemption. He is also a Platonic idea, the End of the chain of speculation.

The Venetians were not speculators or philosophers, and the theological assertion is absent from St. Mark's mosaics, which seek rather to tell a Biblical story than to convey an abstraction. The clothing of the story assumes, in Venice, an adventitious interest, as in the fluffy furs worn by Salome in the Baptistery mosaic. The best Venetian mosaics are not in St. Mark's, the doges' showcase, but in Torcello, which was an episcopal see in its own right and owed political allegiance to the Greek exarchate of Ravenna.

Torcello is supposed to have been founded by a direct order from God to the Bishop of Altinum. This is a legend one can believe. Unlike Venice, which was the product of necessity and invention, Torcello does indeed appear to be the result of a divine imperative. Only God, you feel, would have commanded a city to be set here on this flat, mournful prairie, barely afloat in the marshy lagoons -- an island that was abandoned in the more rational eighteenth century because of the noisome malarious vapors that had reduced the population, once numbering 20,000, to a skeleton crew.

Torcello is healthy enough now and a favorite rendezvous with tourists. A private motorboat runs twice a day in season from Harry's Bar in urbe to Harry's Bar in Torcello, a pleasant rustic tavern set in a ragged garden, surrounded by festoons of grapevines. You have an hour and a half to lunch or dine on Harry's specialties (lobster and scampi and fish soup and lasagne) and half an hour to inspect the two churches, buy souvenirs and postcards and Burano lace doilies, before being sped back to Venice. There is a boy in the Cathedral who explains the mosaics.

If I sigh over this, it is because I have read the accounts of earlier tourists, who used to cross from Burano by gondola and walk alone on the pestilential island, musing on the fate of civilizations in the mood of Shelley's "Ozymandias." That is how Torcello should be seen. But now to the melancholy of its widowed Cathedral and orphaned daughter-church, Santa Fosca, a new, modern element has been added -- the melancholy of desecration and of the tomb's solitude invaded. All sacred spots today possess this freshened sadness. A double "Never more" echoes over the tomb of Theodoric at Ravenna, the temple at Sunium, where Byron carved his name. Not being sacred, Venice is happily free from these gloomy reverberations. But once you embark on the lagoons, it is another matter; the voices of guides and of other touristic parties become suddenly insupportable.

It is still possible, however, to go the old way to Torcello, taking the Murano-Burano vaporetto from the Fondamenta Nuova, lunching at Burano, and continuing by gondola to the sluggish canals and reedy landing-place of Torcello. If you dally in Burano long enough, you will miss the Harry's Bar parties, who will be on their way back to Venice, and there will only be the souvenir-vendors and the postcard people and the lace-women and the custodians, lined up to speak to you in a babel of tongues.